Only a handful of students attended the open meeting held by the School of Literature, Languages and Media (SLLM) this past Monday.
The school has formed a sexual harassment committee consisting of school staff members Dr Mehita Iqani, Prof Pumla Gqola, Dr Colette Gordon and Prof Tommaso Milani.
At the meeting the committee members handed out their personal contact details so that students could feel free to speak to them discretely about sexual harassment. In addition the committee handed out pamphlets which included the information of relevent university structures dealing with sexual harassment issues.
Dr Iqani got the meeting going by saying that the committee were available to answer questions and give advice to students on sexual harassment issues. “We want to hear students’ views and opinions,” she added.The idea behind the meeting was to get students from the school to come together in a safe environment, so that they would feel free to talk about sexual harassment.
There were concerns about the impact of student views and opinions around the issue of sexual harassment. Prof Gqola reaffirmed the committee’s commitment to engage with students. “We want you to have a say – a direct one,” answered Gqola. The committee guaranteed that testimonies would be confidential and that no student would be punished for ever coming forward with information.
Some of the suggestions made by the students include:
- That both parties in any sexual harassment allegation need to be represented equally. The committee indicated that this can never be guaranteed because a reply from an alleged harasser for example is a matter of choice.
- Another student suggested that the school should look into creating a student council so that victims could talk to people they feel very comfortable with. The response to this suggestion stated that such a committee was already under construction.
- A running commentary from the floor was that the school had indeed taken a very positive step towards the sexual harassment issue by forming this committee.
A code of conduct is being drawn up by the school as a way of ensuring that everyone in the school knows what their rights and responsibilities are.
To close off the meeting the committee reiterated that they are in no position to action against perpetrators. Dr Gordon said: “It’s not about removing people, it’s about removing behaviours.”
- Wits Vuvuzela, March 2013: UPDATED: Wits Vuvuzela responds to lecturer complaint
- Wits Vuvuzela, March 2013: Media Studies tackles sexual harassment allegations
- Wits Vuvuzela, March 2013: SLLM announces sexual harassment committee